Fluidifying one’s IT, to not say make IT agile

Categories: it

IT consulting is an interesting job because you meet all kinds of companies, and can compare them. My job is also to analyze and improve them, in my case with means of Open Source and automation, but that’s another story.

Anyway, most customers I encounter are suffering of a lack of agility because of too many processes, constraints, regulations, etc. Here you can talk ITIL, security and compliance, approvals at each corner of each process, etc…​

And I’m not even rambling about other aspects like silo-thinking, lack of trust between departments, closed communication, obscure processes and other behaviours not exactly open.

This said, it’s the other kind of customers which brought me to the analogy I’ll describe in this blog. Those are the ones which have no or very little structure. This isn’t good either and brings other challenges, like everybody doing what they think is the correct thing to do, or hiding in the chaos, without alignment with other departments or even individuals.

And if you think of individuals as particles in their organization, matter in the room, then you can envisage an analogy with the four natural states of matter:

four states of matter as photos and atoms: plasma
Figure 1. The four natural states of matter
  • plasma is when particles are so hot that they have next to no interaction with each other, electron are even independent from protons and neutrons. In this state, individuals don’t interact with each other, only by chance. There is absolutely no structure worth mentioning and everything is done more or less randomly, based on the willingness of each individual to do the right thing. The similarity ends here, individuals have an own will, which particles don’t have (as far as we know at least).

  • gas has already more structure, the electrons have their place around the atom cores and there are even molecules floating around. This said, the molecules "act" mostly independent of each other. They bump and interact from time to time with each other, but they don’t follow a specific direction and their movement is rather random, unless there is some wind (leaders? Ideas? Trends?) to push them here and there.

  • liquid is a lot more structured, water molecules for example interact with each other without being impaired to move around. And liquid do flow collectively and steadily. They don’t follow winds but a certain direction given by gravity. Sounds like a strategy!

  • solid on the other hand is definitively stable and immutable. All the particles are tightly bound to each other and can’t move around much. They can only vibrate, which doesn’t bring them very far.

So, is your company’s IT solid, liquid, gas or even plasma?

Many companies have had bad experiences of "agile" introduction, either because:

  • they were introduced without addressing the underlying process and mentality issues. We call this "agile waterfall". Pitch is a liquid but not a good analogy for a fluid IT.

  • there was a wrong understanding that agile means everybody is allowed to do whatever they want. The heat is on, and the solid sublimates directly into gas or even plasma. As one of my customers told me once, very seriously: “We don’t need a strategy, we do Scrum”.

We can draw the analogy even further, becoming even slightly poetic: liquid water in the nature has an objective, go to the sea, a strategy, flow down the mountain, and a purpose, irrigate the fields on its way, with each drop in the river participating to this approach.

Wouldn’t it be something for any company’s IT?